Mobile payments options expanding for UAE residents

Monday 19 June 2017 | 14:46 CET | Background
In the last year several new mobile payment facilities have been started in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), allowing its residents a choice of mobile payment options.  Mobile payment schemes are offered by third parties, by the device manufacturers, banks and by mobile operators. They include NFC based schemes, SMS based options or using a phone number and PIN. As in other countries, this multitude of options may actually hamper the uptake, but with the government pushing for a cashless society it is likely to grow regardless. 

Quisk has launched its new payment platform, while Samsung Pay and Empay started in April. In June Quisk announced that the new generation of smart payment solutions it has been developing will launch later this year. Quisk is a cloud computing system designed to integrate with the core banking platform of any bank in the UAE to deliver new and affordable digital solutions to customers. Using customers’ phone numbers and secured PINs rather than card or bank account numbers, the smart payment system allows anyone to smoothly manage, pay or save money, even for those who have no bank accounts in the UAE. Unlike those payment systems that are best used through smartphones or those mainly limited to payment through SMS, Quisk can be used by any phone for customers to conduct a range of transactions, including retail purchases, government services and bill payments. Quisk Middle East is backed by the Smart Dubai Government Establishment (SDG), its service can be used at all of Network International’s points of sale across the country.  

Various mobile payment initiatives launched

Another service launched as part of the SDG’s aim to transform Dubai into the world’s smartest city was Empay, a mobile wallet from Emcredit, a subsidiary of the Dubai Economic Department. Through the collaboration, consumers in the UAE will be able to make retail payments (in-store and remote payment), initiate money transfers, and pay for government utilities, telecommunication, and school fees, among many other options, from a single mobile wallet. 

In April 2017 Samsung Pay was launched in the UAE, as the first country in the Middle East and the 17th country for Samsung Pay. At launch customers of the major banks in UAE can start using the service.  Given UAE’s high rate of smartphone penetration (it stood at 78 percent in 2016) and Samsung having the largest market share, it is unsurprising Samsung chose UAE as its first country in the Middle East. Because of its use of MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission) Samsung Pay should work at all points of sale in UAE. 

Other initiatives including mobile payments have also been taking place in UAE. For example in October 2016 operator Etisalat partnered with Ajman Municipality to enable mobile parking payments, allowing drivers in Ajman to pay for their parking ticket by sending a SMS. 

In August 2016 Emirates NBD bank launched Emirates NBD Pay, using Visa’s Token Service. It allows NBD’s customers with a Visa credit or debit card to use their NFC enabled Android phones to make purchases at NFC enabled PoS terminals. Customers only had to upgrade their mobile banking app.  

All these exist next to other third party apps like Beam, next to mobile wallets from mobile operators and Dubai Smart Government’s own mPay app and with new services continuously being developed such as Emirates Digital Wallet. 

Cash still popular but government pushing for cashless society 

The growing number of options available to consumers will actually not make the choice of which one to use any easier for the UAE residents.  These residents are a mixed group of local citizens, (mostly western) expats and oversees (migrant) workers from e.g. Pakistan, Philippines or Sri Lanka, each with their own reasons for using mobile payment facilities. On top of this cash is still very popular in UAE. According to UAE Central Bank figures, about 75 per cent of transactions in the country are made in cash and many of the migrant workers have no bank account. However with the government pushing towards a mostly cashless society in around four years’ time and actively participating in several mobile payment schemes, it is likely that the uptake of mobile payments in the UAE will continue to grow in the coming years.

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